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June 03, 2007 Q & A

Divorce and Christian Service

Question:

Can a man who divorced his wife for infidelity ten years before his conversion, find a place of service within the OPC as an ordained minister, or other full time service? I was called later in life, and now seek to serve the Lord, diligently seeking his will for my direction in ministry.

On your website, under "A Suggested Guide for Taking Men Under Care of Presbytery" one of the questions that may be asked of a candidate is: "Has this man ever been divorced? If so, a full report of all the circumstances, with the Session's evaluation, is to be provided." Can this mean that under some circumstances a man might be a candidate?

Answer:

The answer to your long question is yes. This is not to say that the OPC takes a light view of divorce. God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). He considers it an act of treachery (verses 14-15). But the treachery is committed by the one who violates the marriage covenant. Once committed, it cannot be "uncommitted." And the spouse who has been so treated may, if there is no remedy, marry another. The Scripture for this is Matthew 19:9. Our Lord Himself said, "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery ..." (my emphasis). The plain implication of that exceptive clause is that, if a man divorces his wife for infidelity and remarries, he is not considered an adulterer, even though remarried.

The Westminster Confession of Faith says this on the subject:

5. ... In the case of adultery after marriage, it is lawful for the innocent party to sue out a divorce: and, after the divorce, to marry another, as if the offending party were dead.

6. Although the corruption of man be such as is apt to study arguments unduly to put asunder those whom God hath joined together in marriage: yet, nothing but adultery, or such willful desertion as can no way be remedied by the church, or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage: wherein, a public and orderly course of proceeding is to be observed; and the persons concerned in it not left to their own wills, and discretion, in their own case.

The suggested guide for taking men under care is right in asking the candidate the question and, in case of a yes answer, to make diligent inquiry into the facts behind the divorce. Often times there is evident sin on both sides, even though the suing party has not himself been guilty of the same sin. But the fact that you stated that this all took place before your conversion, tends to somewhat lift any cloud from your previous life. Even the Apostle Paul confessed to have sinfully taken life in his passionate zeal for the law of the Pharisees. Repentance from the heart frees from guilt.

We do not adopt the attitude of many Protestant churches which say, this is OK for laymen, but not for ministers. God's prescriptions and proscriptions are meant for all who profess the name of Christ. I know of two ministers in good standing in the OPC that have divorced and remarried. I don't know the circumstances, but their presbyteries surely asked a lot of tough questions before giving consent. And you should be forthcoming if so questioned. But if a marriage ceases to exist between a man and his (former) wife, the bond is removed. Where there is no bond, there is no bar! I hope that answers your questions. May God go with you as, in the middle of your years, you answer the call of God in your new calling. Of course, you know that the church must ultimately judge of the genuineness of your call as in all who believe they are called to the ministry.

 

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